Books·CBC Literary Prizes

"The Metabolites" by Adam Dickinson

Adam Dickinson was shortlisted for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize for "The Metabolites."
Adam Dickinson was shortlisted for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize for "The Metabolites." (James Sidney)


In order to test your body for the range of

chemicals you have requested, you will need to

send in approximately 62 mL of serum

(equivalent to about 150 mL of whole blood)

and approximately 6 mL of urine. Both the

urine and serum should be sent in amber glass

jars and cooled to below 4 degrees C. Using

the morning void would be best. There are no

other restrictions besides making sure that the

serum sample does not come into contact with

any Teflon.


      Mono-ethyl phthalate        Urine    6.    46 ng/mL

A real estate agent's unventilated office in a

suburban strip mall. The cab of a half-tonne

humid with take-out. A burned-out bathroom

off the meeting rooms for a climate change

conference in Medicine Hat. Try to place the

chemically manufactured smell of fruits and

flowers and you find yourself on a debris flow

into the uncanny valley. Like the creepy

there's-a-knife-missing smile of those alert,

oversized vinyl dolls for children, synthetic

Mango is an overly macheted smell, too

rigidly insistent on narrowly defined versions

of vacation sex and culturally appropriated

tropical breezes. Aloe Blossom is almost

certainly an assassination attempt. It never

succeeds, of course, because it emanates too

much performance anxiety, gives away the

game by forgetting to flick its ash. Pumpkin

Spice is like hugging your grandmother,

inhaling deeply, only to feel some of the

stuffing emerge from the crease in her neck.

Real fruit smells are handwritten notes soaked

with sweat and read by the light of a flesh

wound. They announce depth of desire,

ripeness to act, and cultivated memories built

out of carefully lit sugars. Synthetic fragrances

barely recall anything except our untimely

deaths at the hands of uniformed interiors in

which every recollection becomes a plastic

spoon wearing a mouthful of canned laughter.

They appear in our cells like crayons

misshapen and melted to the seat of a car

parked in the sun.


      Mono-n-butyl phthalate        Urine      30.9 ng/mL

The young men are laughing as they enjoy

having the bodies of men. At the hotel pool bar

they pollinate each other with urine containing

microscopic pieces of their own skeletons.

Free testosterone circulates within them like

motor oil making rainbows in the heads of

parking spaces. They are not women. Say

otherwise and they will fight you. They will

fight you wearing aftershave and cologne.

They will come at you through mousse and

gearshifts, steering wheels and air fresheners,

through fragrances, hair gels, and blood bags.

They will advance on you through stabilized

rubbers and resins, including nitrocellulose

and polyvinyl acetates, soft gloves, jelly

vibrators, and PVC pants. They will take you

through slow dermal exposure, through their

corresponding monoesters in the gastro-

intestinal tract, through excreted metabolites in

their piss. They will kick your ass through

androgen receptors and blocked endogenous

hormones causing urogenital malformations.

They will fight you. And they will shout down

testicular dysgenesis! Down hypospadias!

Down cryptorchidism! They will be sweating

now and you will hardly recognize them,

holding their limp bathing towels as industry

lobbyists try to rally fishermen against

chemical bans by telling them they will lose

their flexible worms. The young men are

glistening with sweat that comes out of them

like browsing history. The things they touch

touch them back, leaving small oil slicks

inside that throw up rainbows in the signals to

their glands. They are not women. They will

fight you. They believe this with the narrative

authority of an intravenous drip.

Due to technical restrictions, the poem could not be displayed as originally formatted. The margins should be fully justified creating a column of prose without the appearance of line breaks.